Say what you will about the artistic or commercial merits of Lollapalooza’s Golden Age, but at least that alternative music festival was a genuine “package tour.” Acts as diverse as A Tribe Called Quest, the Boredoms, Nick Cave and Tool crossed those hallowed stages, while the current Nintendo Fusion Tour offers four bands that are identical in nearly every respect. Concertgoers seeking innovation and artistry had to resort to the sponsor’s kiosk, which featured a playable demo of the new “Legend of Zelda” game.
But maybe artistic variety is beside the point. There’s no reason why fans of headliners Fall Out Boy wouldn’t also appreciate the sounds of Panic At The Disco, The Starting Line and Motion City Soundtrack, since they’re all in effect the same band. With their fast-paced, hooky songs, non-threatening good looks, and coordinated thrift store wardrobes, the acts of Nintendo Fusion have a savvy understanding of their core demographic that’s appropriate for their partnership with the Big N. In fact, the biggest influence on the sound of these bands might as well be the video game soundtracks of Nintendo’s heyday: chirpy, limited in range and stultifying with prolonged exposure.
Neither as convoluted as their true emo forebears nor as direct as the ’90s pop-punkers from whom they also draw inspiration, Motion City Soundtrack and the other openers on the tour all feature solid high tenor vocalists, showily effective drummers and songs designed to maximize audience participation. But trying to divide out the sets of the first three bands might challenge even a true fan.
If you were paying close attention, you might notice that one band had a bassist rather than rhythm guitarist singing lead vocals, a few had synthesizer players, and one had a drummer who wasn’t even that good, but the overall effect of all three groups was exactly the same. Matters weren’t helped along any by a tour format that featured an aggressive barker promoting yet still more up-and-coming acts between sets. No wonder the crush in front of the stage was nothing compared to the crowd at the merchandise booth shelling out for $20 t-shirts and $40 hoodies.
Motion City, Panic At The Disco and the Starting Line all clearly take their cues from Fall Out Boy, but the final set of the evening proved that there’s nothing like the original. While FOB’s performance didn’t pause to incorporate any of the slight variance in range revealed by its new album, “From Under the Cork Tree,” its four members quite trumped their warmups in terms of songcraft, stage presence and staying power.
While it iss bassist/lyricist Pete Wentz who makes the speeches in between songs, lead singer Patrick Stump’s powerful instrument made Wentz’s words actually audible during them, not that the packed crowd didn’t have them memorized already. Songs from the indie breakthrough “Take This to Your Grave” were best-received by the audience, particularly the holler-alongs “Chicago Is So Two Years Ago” and “Grand Theft Autumn,” but it was the singles “Dance, Dance” and “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” from “Cork Tree” that suggested FOB might have shelf life beyond their current fanbase’s high school graduations.
Throughout, Wentz and guitarist Joseph Trohman ran about the stage doing their best to maintain the crowd’s energy, leaping from risers and performing death-defying guitar spins. Wisely, the band chose to divide its set into two “acts” rather than performing a traditional main set and encore, which helped to keep the crowd fresh and slightly diminished the fact that every song in the set was more or less the same tempo. Even this early in its career, Fall Out Boy has grasped some of the basics of playing big halls, and its stage introductions quoted (tongue-in-cheek) Jay-Z and the movie “Rushmore.”
They might want to think about finding a way to cram a ballad in there next time out, but Fall Out Boy managed to emerge from the overall unimaginative nature of the tour’s lineup relatively unscathed. Regardless of genre, personality goes a long way, and the individuality expressed in the band’s songs and stage show set it quite apart from its many imitators.